Origin: Medieval Indian literature hosts the first mention of Indian carpets. Legend has it, that India’s love affair with carpets began when Babur came to India and was thwarted by the absence of luxuries. He missed his Persian carpet and thus Akbar laid the foundation of carpet weaving tradition in India, in 1580 AD.
The carpets of Sikkim are an ode to the cultural richness and dazzling beauty of this place. In 1957, the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom of Sikkim was established to preserve and promote traditional crafts. It provides training in carpet weaving for two years to all Sikkimese boys and girls between the age group of 14 to 24 years.
Present Day: The women of the Bhutia community in Sikkim proudly wear the label of ‘expert carpet weavers’. Frame loom is the traditional pattern of weaving in Sikkim. These talented artisans surrender to world’s oldest form of carpet weaving where they traditionally weave hand-knotted woolen carpets. The weaving method, decorative motifs and the color schemes used is exclusive to this culturally pregnant community.
In Sikkim, carpet weaving is a family business, secrets of which are passed from one generation to another. Interestingly, their production unit is their home. Floral motifs, compositions inspired from Buddhist iconography, Tibetan designs such as dragon holding a ball in his mouth or the two mythical Tibetan birds are some of the celebrated designs. However, Tanga remains the most illustrious traditional designed used by weavers. It is a coin or a medallion that is used comprehensively as a pattern on carpet. These patterns are a surreal reflection of the natural beauty of Sikkim.
Procedure: The art of carpet making is tedious and requires a high degree of concentration, dedication and hard work. Historically, the process starts with wool preparation that involves carding, dyeing and balling. However, nowadays, ready to pick wool can be conveniently picked up from the market.
Once the wool is ready, next step is winding the yarn into balls. The weaving starts from a basic cotton warp. Then, the yarn is loomed using a weaving rod from one end to other. Post that, pile is hammered tight against the previous one and the rod is detached, thread cut and again row is beaten down. This process is repeatedly done in line with the carpet design.After the weave is done the carpet is trimmed, extra fibres are removed and back knots are chopped. Lastly, a machine is used to make it smooth.
Geometrical patterns are crafted with the help of different coloured knots. The perfect colour is obtained using vegetable and natural dyes. These carpets are made using pure silk or pure wool or a combination of both. Sikkim carpets are hand knotted and woven in fixed vertical looms. These carpets usually have knots per square inch which is around 40 to 100 knots. The most common design takes around 8 to 12 months to complete. Whilst, the complex and intricate ones require around two to three years to complete.
The Sikkim carpet industry plays a pivotal role in the economic growth of India. This is one of the most demanded export item. It has a huge demand overseas and is exported to over 100 nations, a few of them are U.K, Germany, Netherland, Italy, France and Gulf Countries etc.
Bring Home: You can buy these treasures from various markets in Sikkim and at different handicrafts emporium.